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Beyond Blue

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This is a piece from my archives. But it’s a good reminder of my brick walls today.
“Brick walls are there for a reason,” said Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University computer-science professor who so poignantly taught us how to die in the years after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. “They let us prove how badly we want things.”

I know what my brick wall is because I snuggle up to it every evening, mistaking it for a pillow: perfectionism.

The demon that has earned the blue ribbon for powers of debilitation in my world is the annoying, high-pitched, squeal of the perfectionist chick who thinks that when a college classmate calls recruiting for help organizing the reunion, the right thing is to say yes. In fact, “yes” is the only word in the irritating broad’s vocabulary.

“Can you help out with the Halloween party?” “Nnn…….. okay.”

“Will you chaperone the field trip to the pumpkin patch?” “I caaa…….sure.”

“Could you organize the ‘Santa’s Run’ fire-department gig for the needy kids? “Nnnnnnn……maybe.”

I want to be the devoted mom at all the class parties. I want to be the noble citizen who contributes her time to community service. I want to say thank you to my alma mater for the four exceptional years of nurturing and education I received. And I want my traffic numbers for Beyond Blue to win me a seat next on Oprah’s set.

“No really, Oprah, the pleasure is mine.”

But this equation–best mom, wife, citizen, graduate, blogger–is bad math. Really bad math, comprised of one unrealistic expectation after another.

I know this now. There’s my progress! But I still have to do something about it.

My memory of slamming into that brick wall two years ago is still so fresh that an alarm sounds in my mind everytime I get too close to the perfectionism prison, and I automatically recall the day I snuck out of Johns Hopkins psych unit to walk around the inner harbor with Eric.

We sipped Starbucks cappuccinos inside the tall warehouse renovated into a three-story Barnes and Noble. I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Eat, Pray, Love,” read her bio on the back cover, and got queasy. Not because I hated her book, but because it triggered the Energizer Bunny dance, the self-destructive jig that the overachieving inner child in me does to win love and acceptance because she believes she has to earn them with impressive accolades.

“Do you mind if we get out of here?” I asked Eric. For the first time in my life, books made me nauseous. I wanted them out of sight along with anything and everything that belonged to the publishing world–until I had some core of self to go with my bio, until I felt a real connection to God and to the important people in my life, the kind of stuff that doesn’t evaporate with bad royalty figures.

I boycotted all bookstores for four months, threw out my issues of “Publishers Weekly,” skipped all conferences or workshops–until I could look into the mirror without scowling, until I came up with ten positive qualities about myself that had nothing to do with writing.

I’ve been hearing the alarm lately–the drumming of the moronic pink bunny–because I’m getting obsessed with the numbers again. If they go up, I make my way to Ben and Jerry’s with a wide smile. If they go down, I make my way to Ben and Jerry’s without a smile. (Either way I still get the chocolate sprinkles.) Which is the major reason I have begun getting up at 5:30 in the morning to begin my day in prayer. Because if I go to God first thing each AM I’m less likely to hit that wall so hard.

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